New research: Creating cultural communities for young Londoners

February 2, 2021  

Covid-19 has had a severe impact on the social, economic and mental wellbeing of young people. Through a new Listening Project, we’ll explore how to build ‘cultural communities’ for, and with, younger generations. And you’re invited to join us.

The pandemic has kept Londoners apart for almost a year now. But it has also brought us closer together in many respects. It has intensified our relationships where we live and forced us to become creative in the way we use our home to accommodate the multitude of activities we would never have imagined possible. With more time spent in the local area, many of us have become aware of the inequalities around us, and the changing needs in our immediate locality.  

The impact of these inequalities on young people have been particularly severe. Emerging evidence on the economic and social impact of the coronavirus shows that young people aged 12–24 years are one of the worst-affected groups, particularly in terms of the labour market and mental health outcomes. 

So what local practices are growing to help tackle these issues? And how can we galvanise community assets and local social infrastructure to improve our communities and create better lives for young people? These are just some of the questions we would like to discuss at our upcoming Listening Project workshop on 11 February. 

The experiences of the pandemic have motivated many Londoners to reach out to people in their community to lend a hand and provide support through a diversity of creative community-led grassroot activities. At the start of the first national lockdown in March 2020, Mutual Aid groups and other forms of community volunteering have emerged and thrived to tackle the most immediate challenges faced by residents in the capital.  

During the most challenging times, the pandemic has also created an opportunity for organisations and communities to think creatively and work differently. It has required London boroughs, charities and the third sector to become more agile, collaborate and reprioritise their resources. During the first lockdown, Lewisham Council worked with Lewisham Local, Age UK and Voluntary Services Lewisham to coordinate its community response. In June 2020, Sutton Council partnered with ViaVan to deliver food parcels to residents more efficiently, which enabled the council to send out over 700 food parcels a week to residents in need.  

The crisis has also enabled many people to use their skills differently to come up with solutions to the different challenges faced by their community. For example, through Creative Quarantine, a group of artists introduced fun and creativity via online activities, to connect people during the lockdown period from inside their homes. At the same time, with online activities replacing in person interactions during lockdown, there is now a greater awareness about the risk of digital exclusion among the poor and elderly, such as highlighted by Creative People & Places Hounslow. 

But even prior to the pandemic, many community-led initiatives were already planting the seeds and establishing relationships that could be critical to sustaining strong community networks during future crises. In fact, studies show that initiatives such as Mutual Aid groups that emerged during the pandemic function better in areas with a more developed social capital. The Big Local and Community Land Trusts provide just two examples of such community-led and hyperlocal initiatives that have been growing in London over the last decade to support local priorities around issues like affordable housing and social infrastructure.  

We are holding a Listening Project workshop to understand the range of community-led and hyperlocal approaches that have been tried both before and during the pandemic. What are the key ingredients for a successful joined up action to champion local priorities? How can we support young people through culture and creativity to navigate, adapt and thrive in a post-COVID future? How can we strengthen local leadership? 

Are you a young person who has been involved in London community-led initiatives similar to the ones described above? Are you someone who has worked with young people through similar hyperlocal activities to champion the priorities for young Londoners and their families? 

If so, we’d love to hear from you.  

Join us for our Listening Project workshop on Thursday 11 February to share your experiences and discuss how we can continue to support cultural communities for young people, building on the hyperlocal and community-led activities that have emerged prior to and during the pandemic.  

If you have any questions or thoughts, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact Pawda Tjoa.

About the Listening Projects 

A New Direction is a London-based non-profit, generating opportunities for children and young people to unlock their creativity.   

In January 2021, in a rapidly changing context, A New Direction commissioned five partner organisations to work with us in order to listen to the concerns and experience of young Londoners, as well as organisations within the rich ecology that supports young people, creativity and culture in the city. We’ve called this work the Listening Projects, and outcomes will feed into our future planning and activity.    

The Listening Projects will cover five themes: the experience of young Londoners, supporting organisations leading practice, the earth emergency, enabling cultural communities, and employment and work. We will publish outcomes in early summer 2021.